Here's why your computer is so slow - Plus, how to fix it

Whether you use your laptop as a glorified Netflix machine or run a side project in Notion, most computer users are all too familiar with the spinning wheel of doom. On Mac, the rainbow swirl cursor eventually gave way to the regular "application not responding." If you're a PC user, you might be a sworn enemy of the retro hourglass cursor or blue circle. But even before that icon pops up, you probably know your computer is running slowly.

The old question "Why is my computer so slow?" Many people think it depends on the whim of the computer gods. But before you declare your laptop dead on arrival, there's still hope for your computer and its processing speed, as long as you know what to look for.

"In the past, it was common for computers to slow down because components inside the computer became slower over time," explained Carmen Zlateff, partner director for Windows Program Management at Microsoft. “Computers slow down these days mostly because we install more and more applications on them without removing anything. […] All of this activity robs your computer of power and makes you unable to use it. "

With the right tools, troubleshooting techniques, and tips from industry experts, you can restore your computer and get back to surfing at high speeds.

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Carmen Zlateff leads the Windows User Experience team. Zlateff has been with Microsoft for more than 25 years, holding roles in product management, software development and overseeing a variety of core UX operations.

Veronica Esbona is president of InGear Public Relations, a communications agency specializing in consumer technology. Esbona is the PR leader for Women in Consumer Technology, an organization dedicated to connecting and empowering women in the consumer technology industry.

Why is my computer so slow?

There are many reasons why your computer may be slow, from malware to the storage or general age of your device. When evaluating this problem, you first need to run some diagnostic tests.


Esbona recommends checking your device's storage first. "As a hard drive approaches its capacity, its processing speed slows down, sometimes by as much as 50 percent," Esbona explains. "The simple answer is that there isn't much virtual memory left to hold the temporary files needed to run the program."

Check the available space on your PC's hard drive by clicking My Computer, then right-clicking Local Disk C and viewing your computer's properties. On your Mac, click Apple in the upper left corner of the screen, select About This Mac, and navigate to Storage. If your total disk space isn't at least 20 percent free, it's time to do some spring cleaning of your computer's memory, Esbona says.

Too many programs

Zlateff says another key cause of computer lag is too many applications running. "If your computer is running slowly, start by closing all applications and browser windows that you are not currently using," Zlateff says. "You might be surprised at how quickly things go." Zlateff also recommends checking which applications are programmed to run when the computer is turned on and which are programmed to run in the background.

On a Mac, you can check this by going to Activity Monitor under Finder > Applications > Utilities > Activity Monitor. Here you will see a complete list of currently running applications and processes and can exit them accordingly. On a PC, press Ctrl + Shift + Esc to open Task Manager and go to Processes > Applications to view running applications. Close those that are not needed.

outdated software

Of course, as with any technical error, another common reason why your computer slows down is that the software isn't up to date. To see if your computer needs a software update, go to Settings on your PC or System Preferences on your Mac. On your PC, click Update & Security, and then click Check for updates. On a Mac, click Software Update in the Settings menu and the window will automatically check if you need an update.

Viruses or malware

One of the more nefarious reasons your computer might be lagging is malware. "Users looking for applications that can speed up or clean up their computers are sometimes tricked into installing these applications from Internet links," Zlatev said. Both Esbona and Zlateff recommend running an antivirus scan to assess whether the cause of your computer's lag is due to unwanted visitors.

How to clear space on your computer?

If, after evaluating your computer's disk space, you've discovered that a lack of storage space may be the cause of your slow computer, it's time to summon your inner Marie Kondo. Some quick steps Esbona recommends for overloaded disks are to empty the Trash and run a disk cleanup utility on Windows or Mac to remove unnecessary or temporary files. If you're using Windows, Zlateff recommends using Storage Sense to manage your drive space.

Alternative storage options

While you may be clicking commands on tons of unnecessary files, there are always some files you just can't let go of. If a work presentation is slowing down your computer, or a family vacation photo album is outgrowing your disk space, Esbona and Zlateff recommend some alternative storage options.

One of the easiest ways to clear your computer's storage is through the cloud. If you have an Apple device, you can purchase an iCloud storage subscription to store your files securely. For PC users, Zlateff recommends Microsoft OneDrive. Some other services available for most devices include DropBox and Google Drive. Not only does using a cloud service save space, but Zlatev stresses that it also "allows you to easily access these files from your phone and ensures that they won't be lost if something goes wrong with your computer."

Google Drive Subscribe to Google

Google Drive plans range from 15 GB to 2 TB, and from free to $9.99 per month. OneDrive Cloud Storage Microsoft

Microsoft's OneDrive plans offer storage from 5 GB to 6 TB, and range from free to $99.99 per year. iCloud+Apple

iCloud+ capacities range from 50GB to 2TB, and pricing ranges from $0.99 to $9.99 per month. DropBox SubscriptionDropBox

DropBox plans start at 2,000GB and go up to unlimited storage, ranging from $9.99 to $20 per month.

Feeling a little skeptical about storing all your precious files in an obscure, omnipotent cloud? You can always choose something more physical. Esbona recommends using an external drive, You can buy it at most tech stores and upload your files to it.

LaCie Rugged Mini 1TB External Hard Drive (For Macs, PCs, Desktops, and Laptops) Amazon

With over 8,000 Amazon reviews, this external hard drive can hold up to 1TB of storage and is waterproof and resistant to damage when dropped or crushed, making it perfect for travelers, hikers, and photographers. If you need more storage, you can choose options with capacities up to 5TB. Seagate Portable External Hard Drive Amazon

This portable external hard drive has nearly 200,000 ratings on Amazon, with an average of four and a half stars. It offers up to 5 TB of storage space. WD Elements Portable External Hard Drive, 2 TB Amazon

This portable external hard drive is compatible with PC, Mac, PS4 and Xbox.

How do I clean my computer of malware?

If you suspect that your laptop's lag could be a symptom of an underlying bug, it's time to get on the defensive and offensive against potential viruses. "If your computer is not that old, and you have removed all unnecessary applications and made sure there is free space on the hard drive," Zlateff explains, "your computer may already be infected with malware."

When evaluating potential viruses or malware, Zlateff stresses that it's important to make sure you're running a trustworthy solution. "Don't install any application over an Internet link unless you are very confident that the company you are downloading from is trustworthy."

For Windows users, Zlateff recommends Microsoft Defender, the antivirus program built into Windows 10 and 11. Apple's iOS also provides regular security updates. Therefore, to maintain a strong defense, Zlatev recommends turning on automatic security updates.

As for antivirus solutions outside of computer software security, some reputable antivirus programs include Norton AntiVirus and McAfee.

Norton - AntiVirus Plus Best Buy

Norton is the gold standard in computer virus protection and can help prevent your computer from slowing down. McAfee® Total ProtectionMcAfee

This antivirus software can help keep your computer running fast, and first-time customers are eligible for an $80 discount.

If all else fails...

If you're a PC owner, one of the last things you can rely on is your PC's ability to upgrade. Zlateff says that if you have an older computer, adding more RAM or a solid-state drive to your computer may substantially improve its performance. (If this sounds like a foreign language to you, it's best to leave this upgrade to a service like Geek Squad.)

However, if you've tried all of the above (as well as the old turn off and on fallback methods) and still don't see an improvement in speed, your computer may be unfortunately dying of natural causes. Both Esbona and Zlateff said there may not be any quick fixes for equipment that develops handling problems five years or older.

"Maybe it's time to consider investing in a new, modern computer," Zlatev said. “Given how much of our lives are conducted online these days – work, school, socializing, entertainment – ​​this investment is likely to pay off in terms of increased productivity and time savings.”